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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Updated: May 25, 6:52 PM ET
Bullfighting Aficionado Experiences

By Wright Thompson
Special to ESPN SportsTravel

The bullfighting world is a small and insular one, as hard to penetrate as it is to understand. But there are places you can go, things you can see and do, that, for a few moments, will make you part of this world. That's all a love of bullfighting is, really. A collection of moments, spread out over a lifetime, more of an art gallery than movie house. You can visit the great arenas of the world: La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid, La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza in Sevilla, and the others. Or you can check out one or more of the following:

1. Tacos at Tijuana's bullfight arena by the ocean
They've got pork. They've got fried pork rinds crumbled on top for some crunch. And if your heart doesn't explode, and if the hot sauce doesn't kill you, settle in with a bota of wine and enjoy an afternoon of the bulls. To get tickets or check schedules (which can change), go to http://www.tjbullfight.com.

2. Easter Sunday in Madrid
If you want to see what a corrida was like 100 years ago, this is the place and this is the day. The bullfight has always had religious overtones, and on Easter, all roads converge.

Notable Bullrings
• Las Ventas, Madrid, Spain
• La Maestranza, Sevilla, Spain
• Plaza de Toros de Ronda, Ronda, Spain
• Plaza de Toros de El Puerto, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
• Campo Pequeno, Lisbon, Portugal
• Arena of Nimes (formerly a Roman ampitheater), Nimes, France
• Plaza de Toros de Mexico (world's biggest bullring), Mexico City, Mexico
• Plaza de Toros de Acho, Lima, Peru
• Plaza Monumental de las Playas, Tijuana, Mexico

More from Wikipedia:
Bullfighting | Bullrings
3. Sevilla Cemetery in Sevilla
Early in the morning, when it's just you and the ghosts, you can stand at the graves of Joselito and Juan Belmonte, considered the two greatest matadors ever. The years when they battled each other, 1914 and 1920, were the pinnacle of the bullfight. Their deaths serve as a warning to those who would seek glory. Joselito died on the horns of a bull. Belmonte shot himself in the head.

4. Brunch at Tijuana's Hotel Palacio Azteca on the morning of a corrida
Besides the waves of food, and the American aficionados who always frequent this hotel, if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a matador. Rumor has it, this is where El Juli often stays when he comes to Tijuana.

5. Viña P in Madrid
In Plaza de Santa Ana, the heart of the bullfighting world, aficionados come to this restaurant for plates of sizzling meat, bottles of red wine and hours of arguing. Just across the way (where a soulless Hard Rock Hotel now stands) was the Hotel Victoria Reina, the choice of matadors. Manolete stayed there. Hemingway stayed there. Leaving Viña P full and half-crocked, you'll feel like you've gone back in time (and if progress rolls it under before you make it, then the world is a poorer place).

6. The bar of Hotel La Perla in Pamplona, during The Festival of San Fermín (July 6-14)
There are bulls on the walls and history in the rooms. It's one of those places Hemingway stalkers like to frequent, as He allegedly inhabited this space. While the frat boys are outside running with the bulls, you should drink in the saloon, letting the years fall away. As you might have gathered, any corrida vacation is really a trip back in time. If you must run, here's a hint: make sure you are always away from the direction the bull will slide while cornering. You are more likely to be crushed than gored.

7. The California Academy of Tauromaquia in San Diego
Run by Coleman Cooney, this is the first bullfight school in America. They train you and -- in just a day if you choose a weekend class -- will have you in a stone bullring in Mexico, trying your skills against young animals, called vacas. Visit them at http://www.bullfightschool.com.

8. Casa Plasencia in Tijuana
Near the downtown bullring, this Mediterranean restaurant has white tablecloths and, if the time is right, bullfights on a flat-screen television upstairs. Try to sit upstairs. Order tapas. Drink good tequila. Just be.

9. View images of men preparing for the kill
Check out http://www.mecalisgraphics.com. At the bullfight in Tijuana, I met a photographer named Mark Mecalis who takes the most amazing pictures of the corrida. If you can't get to any of these far-flung places, you can frame one of his photos.

10. Death in the Afternoon
Yeah, yeah, we know. The bullfight freaks often roll their eyes when a new person mentions Hemingway. It's a cliché. Here's a news flash: they are all wrong. The book makes the corrida come alive and, if you're going to see a bullfight, read it first.

Wright Thompson is a correspondent for ESPN.com and can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.